Career pathways key at State of the Schools event

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Marshalltown Schools Superintendent Theron Schutte talks about initiatives to get students thinking about career pathways.

Every year, local leaders in education, business and industry gather for an update from the local schools and Marshalltown Community College, and this year’s discussion focused on getting students ready for local careers.

The Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce hosted Wednesday’s State of the Schools breakfast. Marshalltown Community College Provost Robin Shaffer Lilienthal discussed the local workforce pipeline.

“Of the region that Iowa Valley Community College District serves, Marshall County actually has the lowest number of people in our communities with an associates degree or higher,” she said.

The goal of the statewide Future Ready Iowa initiative is to get the number of people with education beyond a high school diploma up to 70 percent by 2025. Lilienthal said Marshalltown Community College has several high-quality programs that align with Future Ready Iowa, including nursing, machine tool technology, electro-mechanical systems, powerline and gasline technology programs, welding, computer networking and more.

“We also have great partnerships with business and industry,” Lilienthal said. “About 104 local businesses are served by our training programs, with sector boards in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health and construction.”

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Marshalltown Community College Provost Robin Shaffer Lilienthal discusses how the institution can help meet local workforce needs.

She said 362 Marshalltown Community College students received a degree, diploma or certificate from the college.

“That’s 362 people that we put out into the pipeline,” Lilienthal said.

She also announced the college’s new federal designation as an Emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution due to its 16.4 percent Hispanic student enrollment. That makes the college one of only four in the state with such a designation.

Marshalltown Schools report

Leaders from Marshalltown Schools also had a lot to say at Wednesday’s event. Superintendent Theron Schutte talked about providing opportunities for students to learn about career pathways from a young age.

“One of the things that we’ve realized is that for our kids to be able to access the wealth of opportunities successfully at the high school, we have to do a better job of building a solid foundation at the elementary-, intermediate- and middle school levels,” he said.

Schutte said the district has adopted new math and science curriculums to bring the emphasis of those subjects to the forefront, alongside literacy. Digital ST Math and Lexia supplemental learning programs were also added in recent years.

Expansion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based studies to the entire Marshalltown K-12 system was also touted.

Schutte said it’s likely Marshalltown Schools will have a one-to-one student-to-laptop ratio by next school year, provided bids come in for about 1,600 computers in the coming weeks.

“We don’t want or have our kids in front of screens all day long, but there are certain periods of the day where it’s instrumental,” Schutte said. If we’re going to differentiate the instruction to meet their needs where they are at educationally, or personalize it to where their needs are, we absolutely need a device in each kid’s hands to most effectively do that.”

The Junior Achievement program saw 147 local professionals from 59 businesses and industries volunteer several hours to instruct K-8 students on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and workplace readiness.

Marshalltown Schools Curriculum and Professional Development Leader Dee Burt said all of the efforts Schutte discussed should continue and invited more businesses and industries to get involved with Marshalltown students.

“If you had someone in your life that helped lead you to your career and your passion in life, you know that that’s what our students need as well,” Burt said. “With our expanded, high-quality work-based learning programs, we are hoping that you as business partners can provide that mentorship to our students, whether its a formal or informal internship.”

She also announced new apprenticeships for students at Fareway Grocery in meat-cutting as well as at the Iowa Veterans Home.

Burt also called for an expansion of teacher externship experiences, which brings teachers to local companies, factories, farms and more. The idea is that the teachers will learn about the jobs available locally and what skills those employers look for – they then bring that experience to the classroom.

Burt said forming such relationships between the community and students benefits everyone.

“I see hope for students when they’re at the high school and they’re dreaming about the life after high school, when we can actually provide opportunities for them to be able to experience that first-hand,” she said. “They actually have experience to say ‘This is for me,’ or ‘This isn’t really what I want to do.'”

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Contact Adam Sodders at

(641) 753-6611 or

asodders@timesrepublican.com